The transformative potential of education in supporting sustainable development is widely acknowledged today. Indeed, goal four of the Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) is: ‘ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning’. When it comes to pursing education in development, the Global Partnership for Education is a key organisation. Supporting 65 developing countries, GPE works to ensure that every child receives a quality basic education and focuses on ‘the poorest, most vulnerable and those living in fragile and conflict-affected countries’.
During 2016’s edition of European Development Days GPE board chair Julia Gillard spoke of the importance of education. Having served as prime minister of Australia between 2010 and 2013, Gillard joined GPE in 2014, directing her efforts towards ensuring quality education in the least developed countries.
Speaking to PEN during the event on 16 June, she outlined GPE’s priorities. For Gillard, the focus is on ensuring quality education and tackling gender imbalances. While the partnership has consistently worked on gender and girls’ education, a gender and inclusiveness action plan has recently been formalised and will guide the partnership’s work in the future. It is clear that GPE is committed towards all children receiving a decent education, as Gillard made evident.
What are your key priorities for the partnership at present?
At the Global Partnership for Education, we completed our new five-year strategic plan at the end of last year. We call it GPE 2020. It outlines the priority of strengthening our education systems to achieve better learning and equity. Everything we are doing now is about operationalising that strategic plan. We are still in a period of growth change, with the partnership strengthening over time. I’ve just come from a three-day board meeting where we not only made some new grants to countries, but we focused on what we need to do to attract more financing in more innovative ways.
We are focused on results, monitoring and evaluation, and are very determined to make sure that our operational model is tight – ensuring we are making a change. The board – in a real spirit of partnership across the developing country partners, civil society, the private sector and our donors to GPE – has been looking at the way we work in countries. We are looking to make sure we create an impact for our developing country partners across their whole education system.
It has been a journey of change, and we are now operationalising our new plan. We are conscious that we are doing that in a changing global environment. I also serve as a champion of ‘Education Cannot Wait’, which funds education in emergencies. GPE board has been focused on this fund, considering what they can do to support this funding platform. I’m also serving on the Education Commission of the Norway initiative, which will report in September. We think this will stand with and be a major support for some of the innovative approaches we are looking at now.
In the wake of the adoption of the SDGs, how important is this strategic plan in establishing how your organisation operates under the new goals?
The plan is to move GPE’s focus from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). GPE grew out of the fast-track-initiative (FTI) that was concerned with achieving the MDG goal of ensuring universal access to primary school education. While of course our work was broader, ultimately primary school education was our core ambition.
Now, our ambition encompasses the whole breadth of the fourth SDG. We have endorsed SDG 4 as being the vision for our strategic plan. We will continue to focus on early learning and school education. We have a first focus on basic education; which covers one year of pre-primary, primary school and lower secondary education. This is ten full years of schooling. In some of the places where we work the issues will increasingly be about equitable access to secondary education.
More widely, have your partners embraced the SDG agenda and adapted their way of working to take account of the goals?
Yes, I think they have, and this will have more impact over time. For everyone in our partnership, we have recognised that the MDG objective of having an access to education measure – while pushing such an important change – was not sufficient.
We need to talk about more than children actually sitting in school. There is a need to focus on whether children are actually learning – there is a quality crisis that needs to be addressed. The statistics show that 130 million children may get access to school, but it is of such poor quality that they are never equipped for even the basic literacy or numeracy skill level. Within our partnership the focus is now on ‘learning’.
Our business is to strengthen education systems to improve learning and equity. That has led to things such as a particular initiative called ‘assessment for learning’. This is on strengthening capacity and national assessment systems. When our developing country partners come together and education ministers meet, a lot of the dialogue is about quality improvements, metrics and benchmarks for learning.
How is GPE working to support teachers and promote training amongst educators today?
Our model of working is that we co-operate with the developing country to ensure that there is a robust whole plan for education. This may sound a simple thing, but in many of these challenging contexts it is a very difficult task to acquit. In the lowest income countries we fund a section of that plan. Now 30% of the grant money provided can be results-based financing depending on meeting agreed benchmarks. Unsurprisingly, in many of the countries where we are working on planning and programme implementation of grants the focus is on teacher training.
In Burundi, a difficult environment to work in, a focus of that grant work is on teacher training and teacher quality. That is one country example where developing countries themselves are putting a big spotlight on where they conduct their education sector planning.
As regards the work of the European institutions, would you like to see greater efforts coming forward?
We are pleased to work with the European Commission; they are a wonderful partner for us and a strong contributor to GPE, not only in the sense that they are a strong contributor of funds but also in terms of providing advice. They are a very thoughtful partner in supporting our work.
There is a shared agenda for further resource mobilisation, and our board has agreed that we will have our fund replenishment by the end of 2017. With plenty of work to do for GPE’s replenishment, it is a resource challenge. I think that there are also some challenges in working across the humanitarian and development spectrum. For many people education has only been viewed in a development context; now it is being viewed in a humanitarian context. Almost 50% of what we do is in fragile and conflict-affected places.
With the new Education Cannot Wait initiative, the challenge is not just resource mobilisation but finding new ways of working that take us from emergency response – making sure children get back to school as quickly as possible – through seamlessly working on longer term development.
As regards promoting finance for development, how are you considering new models at GPE?
At the partnership, we still look towards our national donors, and I personally keep pushing traditional donors and partners from developed countries to contribute more resources. Yet we know that we are in a world where it is not possible to achieve this ambitious agenda for education solely by relying on traditional donors.
We have, within GPE, a strategic finance working group, and we are looking at innovation in both finance and funding, by which we mean both how we raise money and how we expend money. What we do now, with programme implementation grants for supporting the improvement of whole education systems, will continue to be GPE’s core business. But we will look at what more we can do to raise money in different ways, and what more we can do for other financing mechanisms in countries that would have an impact.